Hegemonic Rivalry - Stanford University .Hegemonic Rivalry From Thucydides to the Nuclear Age EDITED

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    Hegemonic Rivalry

    From Thucydidesto the Nuclear Age


    Richard Ned Lebowand Barry S. Strauss


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  • 12National Ideology and Strategic

    Defense of the Population,from Athens to Star Wars

    Josiah Ober

    On March 23, 1983, President Ronald Reagan gave a televised speechto the American public in which he proposed that the United Statesbegin working to develop a space-based "peace shield"-a system ofstrategic defenses that would "intercept and destroy strategic ballisticmissiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies." Thegoal of the system would be to "give us the means of rendering thesenuclear weapons impotent and obsolete" and "eliminat[e] the threatposed by strategic nuclear missiles." 1 Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative(SDI)-dubbed "Star Wars" by the proposed system's detractors-hassince become a major factor in American defense planning and diplomacy.Most SOl planners envision a limited system in which only the mostimportant military targets would be defended.2 The version that hasbeen marketed to the American public, however, both in Reagan's initialspeech and by' private groups advocating SDI, is a strategic defense ofthe population: a system which, once fully implemented, would safeguardthe residents and the economic infrastructure of the United States fromnuclear attack.3 The version of SOl in which the American public hasbeen encouraged to believe is a true grand strategy of preclusivepopulation defense. ,.

    The literature on Star Wars is vast, but the psychological impact ofpreclusive defenses on popular opinion and on decision making by na-tionalleaders has not been taken enough into consideration. The problemis best approached historically, since although technologies change, thereare apparent continuities in the interaction of public opinion and policywithin democratic polities. A consideration of the impact on classicalAthens of the development and deployment of preclusive population


  • 252 Josiah ObeT National Ideology and Strategic Defense 253

    defense systems points out the complex interplay between defensivestrategy and national ideology. The history of Athenian defense strategyin the ,fifth and fourth centuries B.C. suggests that a national militarypolicy based on a grand strategy of preclusive defense can lead to bothideological and technological problems and helps to explain why theseproblems may not be fully recognized by the system's designers or by itssupposed beneficiaries. Furthermore, the Athenian example suggests thatpreclusive defense systems can destabilize power regimes regardless ofwhether the system was built for genuinely defensive purposes (as SOlproponents claim) or to mask aggressive plans (as some critics of SOlclaim).. The Athenian example helps to explain the role of offensive anddefensive innovation in destabilizing international power regimes and inexpanding and intensifying hot conflicts. Ultima~ely, analysis of howAthenian public opinion conditioned foreign policy options may offer achallenge to the classical Realist sch~ol of international relations theory.4

    Some may object at the outset that the unique strategic function ofnuclear weapons renders all pre-nuclear age history irrelevant to dis-cussions of international relations.s But, while admitting that the modernsituation indeed presents some unparalleled features, I believe that thereis a very real danger in abandoning history when thinking about inter-national relations. Those who fail to take the past into consideration tendto regard their own attitudes, biases, and modes of thought-in short,their ideology-as objective and as capable of arriving at objective truth.Consequently, they may fail to recognize the limits that their ownideological presuppositions impose upon the range of options to whichthey are able to give serious attention. Ideology, as I have defined it here,is inescapable and dangerous because it tends to be invisible: MichelFoucault has emphasized that ideology is not simply prejudice that canbe shed through exercise of the rational will, but is structured into thediscourse and power structure of every society.6 If Foucault is correct,strategists and planners are wrong to assume that their conclusions canbe completely rational or free from extraneous influences, because thevery form of their thought is predetermined by the ideology of the'societyin which they live. Studying the past may offer a partial corrective. Theideology of past societies tends, over time, to become more opaque andso is subject to analysis and interpretation. Historical studies can thereforereveal the ways in which strategic choice molds national ideology andcan reveal how that ideology in turn conditions strategic decision making.


    Thucydides emphasized that the Peloponnesian War pitted Atheniansea power against Spartan land power.7 This situation entailed offensive

    capability inequality. The Athenians could use their superior navy toraid the Peloponnesian coast and to interfere with overseas trade bymembers of the Peloponnesian League, but they could not do muchdirect damage to Sparta's home territory.8 For their part, the Peloponne-sians could mar~h upon and occupy the home territory of Athens. TheAthenians could not prevent the occupation unless the Athenian landarmy could defeat the Peloponnesians in open battle. Given the superiornumbers of the Peloponnesian infantry and the superior military trainingof the Spartans, this was not a likely scenario, and both sides knew it.The disparity of means by which offensive military power could bedeployed was certainly a primary reason why many Spartans andPeloponnesians believed the war would be short and must inevitablyend in Athenian surrender.9 .

    Athenian strategists had to devise a way to deflect the effects of thedirect application of offensive land power by the Peloponnesians onAthens. The solution to the problem was found in fortifications. Giventhe inferiority of fifth-century siegecraft, the massive Athenian long wallfortified complex (the Athens-Piraeus long walls) offered a cOIJ)pletelysecure bastion behind which the Athenians could defend themselvesagainst Spartan military forces. to By protecting the population of Attica,the fortification complex could potentially balance the power equationin a protracted war with a superior land power. But we do not actuallyknow whether that was the original intended function of the fortificationcomplex.

    The city wall of Athens was rebuilt after the Persian Wars (480-79B.C.), and the long walls to Piraeus were completed in the 450s.11 Neitherthe strategic views of the architects who planned the walls nor thoseof the citizens who approved the plans in the Athenian assembly areknown. It may be the case that the original motivation behind wallbuilding was aggressive: to create a secure bastion that would allowAthens to launch attacks without fear of effective retaliation. But it isunnecessary to presume a priori that most Athenians in the decadesbefore the Peloponnesian War had rationally thought through the rolethe walls might play in' a major war. Many Athenians may well haveregarded building t~e long walls as part of the normal (for the period)"tactical" military preparations of the city: a factor in fighting the enemyindeed, but not intended to permanently protect the entire populationof the state. Pre-Peloponnesian War Greek warfare was highly formalizedand emphasized personal bravery and collective fortitude rather thanstrategic insight.12 It was ordinarily assumed that enemy invaders wouldbe challenged to a fair fight in the open field by the national levy ofthe invaded state. City and harbor walls ensured that towns could notbe captured by surprise; they allowed the national army to' prepare in

  • an unhurried manner to meet the enemy in the field. In the case ofdefeat in the field, the defenders could retreat to a place of safety, andthe negotiations with the victorious enemy could be carried on in anatmosphere of relative tranquillity.

    Pericles, however, recognized that the urban fortification complex heldthe potential to serve a comprehensive role in protecting the Athenianpopulation and essential Athenian economic resources against the superiorPeloponnesian land army. Pericles argued that if all the Athenians inAttica retreated within the walls, they need not engage the Spartan-Peloponnesian land army in battle. The Spartans could ravage the landoutside the walls, but extraurban property was strategically nonessentialin light of the ability of Athens' navy to convoy supplies to the portat Piraeus. Imports could be paid for with accumulated surpluses andimperial revenues.13 Thus, Sparta's military migl,t would be renderedimpotent. Since the Spartans could not hope to assault the wallssuccessfully, the Athenians inside the city would be insulated from thedeployment of Spartan power, provided they were able to ignore damagedone by invaders to property outside the walls. The city wall defenseplan required considerable sacrifices on the part of the Athenian ruralpopulation-over half, perhaps three quarters, of the total citizen pop-ulation. Given Athens' democratic constitution, Pericles' strategic planrequired the acquiescence and cooperation of the rural population.Thucydides implies that Pericles had some difficulty in persuading someAthenians to accept this view of the fortifications as a retreat for thepopulation and in getting them to stick by his strategic vision duringthe first Peloponnesian invasion in 431.14 But in the end Pericles wonout. His grand strategy for the Peloponnesian War, based on sea powerto control the empire combined with strategic defense of the populationwithin the urban complex, confounded the Spartans for several years.